Be a ninja.

I wanted to call this post “How to keep your inner chill when surrounded by crazy people,” but that felt too long and not quite the point I want to make.

I’m thinking about the Bar Exam.  Also certain family gatherings.  And occasional corporate town hall meetings.  Any time I felt like I was surrounded by people who were kinda crazy, and I was concerned about getting sucked down into the crazy with them.

Here are some things I’ve learned over the years, after studying, practicing and applying all kinds of mindfulness practices to my own personal and professional life:

I’m a human.  Meaning, I still get triggered and judgmental, frustrated and impatient.  I still experience the full range of emotions that we get to have as humans!  In fact, all the awareness training makes me even more aware of my emotional, intellectual, and physical reactions.  The more you feel, the more you feel.  What matters is how you relate to it.

Knowledge is power.  Knowing I’m about to enter a challenging environment means I can prepare for it.  I had a very clear strategy for the Bar Exam.  I had ear plugs and extra pens.  I had my favorite comfy pjs, and the right kind of food.  I decided I would not talk to anyone — emotions are contagious, and the last thing I needed was to catch anyone else’s anxiety.  I kept my distance.

Use intention like a compass.  For the Bar Exam, my intention was Do what you know how to do.  It was about trusting my training.  Taking it one question at a time, and not looking back.  One of my favorite intentions, which I use in personal and professional venues, is Enjoy spending time with this person.  By naming a specific intention, you create a compass to guide you through the dark and stormy thicket of overwhelm.

Know what to let go of.  Take steps to control the things you can.  And then let go of the rest.  Unpredictable things will happen.  Sometimes, it will be unexpectedly awesome.  Other times, not.  If it’s within your jurisdiction, handle it.  If it’s not, then let it go:  save your time, attention, and energy.

Exhale.  When you feel anxious and stressed your breath becomes shallow and your heart rate increases.  A really effective way to dial it back down is to exhale fully — let the belly soften and shoulders relax.  If you can pair it with genuine laughter, even better.  A deep exhale recruits your parasympathetic nervous system, which supports your mind and body in returning to at state of restful vigilance.  Which is a very powerful place to be.

It’s all about knowing yourself:  awareness of your triggers, your needs, and what keeps you grounded and calm when those around you are neither.  You become like a ninja:  light on your feet, responsive, and powerful.  You don’t get knocked off center so much.  And when you do stumble, you recover more easily.

This kind of resilience is incredibly useful.